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3M, DuPont, Others Produced, Sold Firefighting Foam They Knew Was Toxic, NJ Authorities Charge

Spraying a fire with AFFF creates a film that coats the fire, blocking its oxygen supply and preventing re-ignition.
Spraying a fire with AFFF creates a film that coats the fire, blocking its oxygen supply and preventing re-ignition. Photo Credit: COURTESY: KUAC.org

For decades 3M, DuPont and other companies made and sold firefighting foam that released toxic and harmful chemicals, contaminating ground and surface water – including several lakes -- and creating "a continuing threat to natural resources and human health,” New Jersey authorities charged.

An environmental and consumer fraud lawsuit filed by the state on Tuesday seeks damages and penalties against eight companies that have manufactured, advertised and sold aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) products.

The products contain chemicals known as PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) that, in combination or alone, are dangerous pollutants associated with immune system suppression and testicular and kidney cancer, among other illnesses, the suit charges.

The defendants:

  • The 3M Company;
  • Tyco Fire Products LP:
  • Chemguard, Inc.;
  • Buckeye Fire Equipment Company;
  • Kidde-Fenwal, Inc.:
  • National Foam, Inc.:
  • E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company
  • The Chemours Company.

“The corporations we’re suing today knew full well the health and environmental risks associated with this foam, and yet they sold it to New Jersey’s firefighters anyway,” NJ Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said Tuesday.

“Their conduct was unconscionable,” Grewal said, “and we’re going to hold these companies accountable.”

Aqueous film-forming foam products are mixed with water to form a foam solution, which is then used to extinguish fuel and other flammable liquid fires.

Spraying a fire with AFFF creates a film that coats the fire, blocking its oxygen supply and preventing re-ignition.

AFFF has been sold to military and industrial facilities, airports, firefighting training academies, state government firefighting entities, and local fire departments across New Jersey and elsewhere.

PFOS and PFOA are mobile chemicals in the foam that persist indefinitely in the environment, bioaccumulate in humans and animals over long periods of time -- and biomagnify as they are consumed up the food chain, state authorities said.

Foam-laced water running off from fuel spills, firefighting events and routine training sessions has put those chemicals in ground water, surface water, sediments, biota, and other natural resources of the state, they added.

Among the sites where they were found: Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington County; Naval Weapons Station Earle in Monmouth County; the former Naval Air Warfare Center in Trenton; and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Technical Center in Atlantic County.

The state DEP investigation leading to the charges is continuing, authorities said.

The suit seeks natural resource damages and reimbursement for the costs required to fully investigate AFFF contamination in New Jersey and for remediating and restoring affected natural resources.

The state is also seeking “economic and consequential damages,” including punitive damages.

New Jersey authorities are also citing the Consumer Fraud Act, based on what Grewal said is the defendants’ “deceptive and fraudulent business practices in their advertisement, offer for sale, and sale of AFFF to New Jersey state entities, counties, municipalities, and local fire departments.”

The state is seeking civil penalties based on those sales, as well as restitution to New Jersey's local, county and state fire departments.

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